Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Guardian - articles by Samantha David

 

WRITING A NOVEL IN FRANCE

 

      "I'm giving up my job," you say.  "I'm moving to France so I can write my novel."

      "Oh yes, and you'll live on...?"

      "Love and creative inspiration," you inform the sceptical bastard before you.

      "Oh, very calorific.  And then...?"

      "The book will be a best-seller and I'll be rich," you explain patiently.

      "Yeah, yeah.  Natch.  Now when are you going to finish that report for the boss?"

      No-one ever believes that you'll ever actually do it because throwing financial solvency to the wind is scary.  Yep, even in France poverty means cheap food, inadequate heating and holes in your shoes.

      Worse still, if you do move to some dilapidated romantic heap halfway up a mountain in the Languedoc, you might actually have to write the friggin' novel.  There won't be anything else to do.  No distractions, no excuses, no nice easy blame-objects (the alarm clock, the rat race, the neighbours). 

      You'll be glued to a blank screen in the total silence and whingeing about writer's block won't cut any ice with the sarky bastards back home who are all just waiting to mow you down with "I told you so..."

      But that's not all.  The coup de grace is getting your opus published.  You're broke, you're knackered, you're living in France on mouse-sweat and stale baguette and now you've got to impress some sharp-eyed London agent into selling your precious creation to Per-per-per-Penguin.  Or someone.  Anyone.

      But it can be done.  It's entirely possible to drop everything, run off to Froglandia, write a novel and get it published.  I know because I have amazed myself by doing just that - my novel "I Married a Pirate" is out 3rd July - and if I can do it so can you. 

      The first handy tip is not to tell anyone what you're up to.  Clear out, sell up, pack your lipsticks into the car and bugger off.  If you've been in a McJob, I would suggest you don't even bother to give in your notice.  A postcard from Calais will usually get you sacked.

      Even when you reach your destined creative paradis, the key is JDI.  Don't discuss it, Just Do It. 

      Secondly, manage your expectations.  Don't attempt to maintain your standard of living.  If you do up the wrecked heap you won't be writing War and Peace will you?  When writing fiction, a reliable electricity supply for the typewriter is far more important than hot water in the kitchen.  Expect to live in artistic simplicity.  Even squalor, if that sort of thing appeals to your Inner Bohemian.

      Don't fall into the trap of chucking the mortgage excess into the coffers of the nearest French caff.  The place may well be busy all day long - but are any of those cheery-beery regulars best-selling authors?  Exactly.  You've got to stay home at your desk and type.

      If you can't write, if you're lost or the book won't work, type a description of how it all went egg-shaped and why you hate writing fiction.  Set a minimum number of words per day and stick at it til you've done them.  (Personally I go for 5-6 thousand as it gives me a nice lot to delete the next morning.)

      Read Lynne Truss's "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" before making up your own grammar.  Don't copy any else's style.  Sort your plot by writing the end first.  You want a romance - make up a good ending and then work out how you get Romeo and Sharon into the space rocket or wherever they are when they get clonked with The Happy Ending.

      When it's finished, it's finished.  Print it in Courier 12 point on white paper, double-spaced, paras indented, a new page for each new chapter but pages numbered sequentially from Once-Upon-A-Time to The End.

      (That's the way it's done.  Any variations simply scream amateur.  So suck it up now and swallow: no coloured paper, no italics, no bold, no underlining, no funny fonts or amusing little graphics... no, nobody gives a toss if you print pastel frogs on the top right-hand corner of every second page, and no they won't be impressed if you cut every page into a different flower shape.) 

      Get everyone you know to read it.  (Yep, the drunks in the caff, your Mum, your kids, everyone.)  If a couple of people hate your hero, to Hell with them.  If absolutely everyone thinks he's a tosspot, re-write until he's untossed and properly baked.  Correct all spellings and deal with plot-holes, inconsistencies and confusions.

      Now write (yes, actual posted letters) to a dozen literary agents: use the model letters in A & C Black's "Writers' & Artists' Yearbook" and enclose the first chapter of your book. 

      (Follow previous advice - do not print on wallpaper to make your book stand out, do not enclose promotional plastic spoons because the story features strawberry jam, and do not beg or brag.  Just state your case and back off.)

      When the reject letters arrive, repeat the exercise with another twelve agents.  If you have approached every single agent in the whole book with no positive response, repeat using the lists of publishers.

      This process can take two or three years.  So while you're waiting, write another book.  That way, once everyone has rejected you - you'll be able to exact your revenge by sending them the first chapter of your second book.

      Oh yes and by the way, the reason you should write the whole book before sending out the first chapter is that no-one will take on an unknown unpublished author on the basis of a first chapter and secondly - sitting about waiting for responses to a first chapter does not constitute writing a book.

      Now that your first book is firmly On The Reject Pile and your second is Doing The Rounds you know what you can do next?  Yerse.  Either grovel about the postcard from Calais, or slog on with Number Three.

      And so it goes.  If you do it long enough you will get a novel published.  Either that, or you will be consigned to local legend as l'anglais fou/l'anglaise folle...

      But what do you care?  Let them all drown in envious bile.  You have done it.  You've moved to France and written a book.

      Yess!          

            

 

 

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